We had been dreaming of New Orleans for years. The Crescant City is a place known to all Americans, even if you’ve never been there. Mardi Gras, Bourboun Street, jazz music, the food, the history, southern hospitality, and in recent years, the heartbreak of Hurrican Katrina, have made New Orleans famous. There are only a few American cities, another being New York, that I would fantasize about. What would it feel like to live there? What would it feel like to sit in a dark club and listen to the jazz legends? What would it taste like to suck a crawfish head? I recall some of my earliest romanticizing about this city. I beleive the first time was as a kid when I saw Marlon Brando shouting Stella’s name in Streetcar Named Desire. You can feel the Louisiana heat in that movie. You can feel the excitement and raw energy of New Orleans in that film. I knew at that moment I needed to go there. But like all things, a trip to Nola just kept on getting pushed lower and lower on the vacation list. So I was very excited about leaving Florida in order to spend almost ten days in New Orleans.
New Orleans did not disappoint. In fact, it was better than we all expected. It is hard not to fall in love with this city, and fall in love we did! I am not going to lie to you, it was the food that hooked us. The food in this town in amazing! We did not eat one thing that wasn’t insanely delicious! We quickly realized that we needed to make a “food plan” if we were going to be able to eat at all the places we wanted to. So we planned each day around where we wanted to have lunch and dinner, and then tried to find things to do to fill the time between the meals. But finding something to do was easy and fun, and we got to see the real New Orleans, not just the touristy and obnoxious scene of Bourboun Street.
The World World II Museum should be a definate stop for anyone coming to New Orleans. The famous writer and historian Steven Ambrose helped create the museum. He interviewed more than six hundred WWII veterans over the course of his lifetime in order to write the numerous books he’s wrote on the topic. These veterans stories helped create the basis for all the personal stories that make this museum so unique. We spent an entire day at this museum, which is saying something when you have an eight and six year old in tow. Micah thought all the airplanes, guns and submarine photos and memorabilia was cool. What six year old wouldn’t? The forty minute movie, narrated by Tom Hanks, is spectacular and worth the $10 extra for a ticket. This movie helped frame for the kids what they would be seeing in the exhibits to follow and we had some frank conversations as a family about how this war effected so many people in our own families. It was an intense and poignant day.
What is New Orleans without music? It’s like asking what is your body without your heart. We were worried that there would be almost no place we could take the kids to see live jazz because they were so young, but how wrong we were. We took them to the 6pm show at Preservation Hall, where they sat us right at the front. The kids literally sat at the musicians feet and they were mesmerized. It’s hard not to be when you’re in the presence of jazz gods!!! Justin and I were able to grab a hurricane from Pat O’Brien’s next door before the show started. There is nothing more New Orleans than sitting at the feet of a trumpeteer drinking a hurricane. We enjoyed a lot of the live musicians that play on the street within the Latin Quarter and we danced while listening to the house band at Cafe Beignet on Bourboun Street. Such a great time!!
People just seem to be themselves in New Orleans. Everyone is accepted and embraced. Creativity and self expression is encouraged and we got the impression that people are generally getting along. Perhaps the tragedy of Katrina brought the city closer together, I’m not sure, but unlike Chicago where almost everyone lives in segregated communities, I got the impression that black and white were living side by side and everyone was getting along swimmingly.
We happened to be in New Orleans over the Martin Luther King Jr holiday weekend, and we attended the MLK Day Parade in the city. Folks in Nola certainly know how to do a parade and the kids loved seeing all the local school bands and kid dance troupes that were marching in the parade. We got a chance to hear some really good high school marching bands. Music is like another religion in this town, and the bands are outstanding!!
You might be asking how we could have camped in such a busy town like New Orleans. About fifteen minutes outside of town is a state park called Bayou Segnette. It is a great little state park with a few hiking trails and a lovely hundred site campground. It was the most perfect place to stay since we could be in the heart of downtown in less than twenty minutes or to the Algiers ferry in about ten. They had free laundry too, which is unheard of at a campground. We took real advantage of that!!
One of the biggest highlights of our time in New Orleans was meeting a local legend, Leah Chase. Leah and her husband Dooky opened a restaurant in the Treme neighborhood in the early 1940s. Martin Luther King used to dine there when he was in town. Louis Armstrong was a regular and almost every president in the last twenty years has come here to try Leah Chase’s famous gumbo. Leah Chase is now 96 years old and we heard that she often spends time in the dining room talking to customers. Sure enough when we came for lunch, she was in her wheelchair, being pushed around by her son, talking to each of the tables. She came to our table and spent a good five minutes talking to us and sharing her unique insights and stories of life. She told Tabatha that every day she should look at herself in the mirror and say, “I’m the prize.” I asked her what her secret was to raising kids, and she said very frankly, “Beat them!” We all erupted in laughter at that… well maybe not the kids. She also shared a story about when Barack Obama came to see her and try her gumbo. He tried to put hot sauce in it and she slapped his hand! She said, “You don’t put hot sauce in my gumbo!” Can you imagine being that loved and respected that you can slap the hand of the most powerful man in America and not worry? Well that is the beauty of Leah Chase. Meeting her was life changing.
It was be impossible to highlight the many restaurants we ate at in New Orleans. Here is a list of all the restaurants we eat at (in alphabetical order) and what we had at each. Most of the time, you’ll be able to guess what the adults ate and what the kids ate, but often times it is not obvious!! Anything bolded is what we enjoyed the most at each place. We would recommend all of these places the next time you happen to be in town.
Acme Oyster House: 1/2 dozen raw oysters, 1/2 dozen charred oysters, red beans & rice, corn bisque, crawfish poyboy, sausage gumbo, jumbalaya, drunken fries (boo fries)
Bevi Seafood: crawfish, oyster poyboy, cochon du lait poyboy, BLT sandwich, grilled cheese & tater tots
Cafe de Monde: beignets, chicory coffee, hot chocolate
Cochon Butcher (so amazing, we ate here twice): Cubano, pork hot dog on pretzel roll, pastrami with swiss cheese, chicken stuffed boudin leg, macaroni and cheese, lamb wrap, hot boudin, head cheese, muffaletta, pork belly sandwich, roasted brussel sprouts
Dooky Chase: creole gumbo, fried chicken, carrott souffle, collard greens, mashed potatoes, spicy sausage, peach cobbler
GW Fins: lobster dumplings, tuna tartar tacos, “fin” wings, sizzling charred oysters, scallobit, spaghetti, salter caramel pie
Katie’s Restaurant: 1/2 dozen charred oysters, crawfish beignets, The Legend (cochon du lait sandwich with BBQ shrimp), catfish meuniere, Who Stole My Cheese pizza, bread pudding
Shay’a: Baba Ganosh, Ikra (fish roe), Labneh (sumac), Hummus with Lamb
Stan’s Deli: reuben, muffaletta, caprese sandwich
Turkey and the Wolf: tacos, fried pot pie, lamb roti, deviled eggs, two collard green sandwiches, fried bologna sandwich, hard shell soft serve ice cream with potato straws, two Middle Rivers Enter the Triangle drinks (bourbon, maple, sesame, mole bitter)
Willie Mae’s: fried chicken, candied yams, brussel sprouts, fries, rice & green beans (best fried chicken in the entire world!)
So we all caught the New Orleans bug. There is talk about going back and trying to live there for a year, just to get the unique experience of living in such a creative and vibrant town. Since leaving, I’ve re-read Ann Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, trying to get some of that New Orleans magic back in my life. Justin and I watched the first season of Treme and are hooked. We have made red beans and rice a few times, and tried to recreate the hummus and lamb we had at Shay’a. Micah keeps asking when we can go back. We now know the true meaning behind the song lyrics, “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?” Oh we do. We really, really do!